4 Ways To Become A More Mindful Leader

By Marsha Koelmel

Co-President of Catapult

Mindfulness is defined as a quality or state of being conscious or aware. As leaders in a world that values speed, multi-tasking and immediate satisfaction, it seems counter-intuitive to slow down and truly focus on one thing at a time. How will you get everything done?

Counter to common thinking, studies show that multi-tasking actually reduces executive function and cognitive ability, results in impulsivity in decision making and increased errors. That’s because the mind is only able to focus on one thing at a time and the volleying between multiple tasks creates a state of distraction. This constant state of distraction has a name: Continuous Partial Attention. It is at the root of fatigue, burnout and a lack of creativity and connection.

As leaders, our number one job is to build, connect with and inspire teams to accomplish big goals together. Which is an impossible task if you are in a state of Continuous Partial Attention.

Continuous Partial Attention has negative effects:

  • Your team can tell if you are fully present and engaged in the conversation – and if you’re not. Your lack of engagement sends a powerful message about how much you value your team and the topic at hand. Further, your team is watching you and your actions will create a culture that mirrors what you appear to value.
  • You lose cognitive ability when you are not fully focused. In other words, you’re just not as good when you’re trying to think about or do more than one thing at a time.

Here are four tips and some resources that we share with our coaching clients to help them build their mindfulness muscle and stay present in these challenging times:

1. Set a “be” intention – When you wake up in the morning, before your feet hit the floor, take five minutes to breathe, notice how you’re feeling and set an intention for the day. Setting an intention allows you to practice being deliberate about how you will “be” during the day. For example, “Today I will stay curious,” “Today I will learn something new” or “Today I will patiently listen.” Throughout the day as you are entering into interactions with others, remember your intention and challenge yourself to act deliberately to achieve it. If you act in a way that is not consistent with your intention, don’t beat yourself up. Simply pause, reflect and begin again.

2. Set a “do” intention – Before you start your day, get very clear about the most important (not urgent) things that you wish to accomplish during the day. Think about the important building blocks that are essential to accomplish your most important goals. Schedule your day around accomplishing these things and, when something unplanned comes up, ask yourself if it is more important (not urgent) than the things you planned to accomplish. You may decide to change your priorities for the day, but you will be doing so with the benefit of deliberate thought and decision-making versus being unconsciously distracted by tasks and interruptions.

3. Notice and Re-Set – Building your mindfulness muscle and breaking the habit of blindly multi-tasking and living in a state of continuous partial attention takes practice. Even if you have set “be” and “do” intentions, you will likely find yourself falling into old habits. When you do, simply pause, notice it and re-set by taking a few breaths, remembering your intentions and starting over. At first, you will likely have to do this multiple times a day. Over time, as you practice being mindful (conscious and aware) of your surroundings, your team and your intentions, you will need to re-set less often.

4. Build a Meditation Practice – Meditation’s popularity has been bolstered by a growing body of research showing that it reduces stress and anxiety, improves attention and memory and promotes self-regulation and empathy. Much like training for a marathon, meditation is training your mind to stay focused on the present. If you have never tried meditation, or even if you have, there are several easy-to-use apps that will teach you the basics and guide you through your practice in as little as one minute per day. A few that we have tried and found useful are 10 Percent Happier, Calm and Headspace. But there are plenty to choose from and many free guided meditation resources to be found through a simple Google search.

If you’re going to lead tomorrow, you need to stay grounded in today. To learn how Catapult’s coaching services can help you achieve this, CLICK HERE.

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